Graptus bit cautiously into one of Cleon’s latest attempts at honey cakes, and sighed with relief that his friend had finally managed to make one that was edible. He’d put his foot down and refused to try any for a while, and had stopped Cleon from forcing them on other members of their team as well, after one disastrous batch had ruined their Saturnalia celebrations. They had eaten them to be polite but the cakes had tasted awful and afterwards had sat in their stomachs like stones. The resulting belly aches had meant no-one felt up to the usual feasting on the shortest day of the year, and Graptus had taken one look at the disgruntled looks on the faces of the rest of the team and decided that enough was enough. No more taste-testing – Cleon would have to take cooking lessons from one of the slaves brought along to cater for everyone before Graptus would risk mutiny by letting anyone else but Cleon eat what he cooked.
Cleon was nothing if not dedicated though and had been practising baking all winter. He’d found a willing taster in the shape of a dog that turned up at the headquarters looking for scraps. Cleon had taken him in, fed him up, and called him Velox, or Speedy, as he was always dashing everywhere – usually after one of the forest birds. Velox wasn’t exactly stupid, for a dog, but he never did learn that the birds would always fly out of his reach long before he could catch them. Now it was spring and the leaves on the oak trees were emerging on bright green stalks, blushed with red on the side facing the sun. The young leaves were bronze and veined with the same lime green, all soft and crinkled, appearing on the trees along with short strings of catkins. Graptus didn’t know if it was because it was their second spring here, or the fact that they were nearly finished with their work and could go home soon, but he was starting to appreciate the place that they’d been stuck in for so long and see the beauty in it. Even Cleon was less grumpy, although that could just be because he had finally cracked the secret of baking good honey cakes and knew that he’d be back in Rome in a few short months.
The road heading towards Durovernum Cantiacorum was virtually completed, and the final stages were being overseen by Felix and Chrestus. Felix had come with them as an apprentice surveyor to Cleon, and Chrestus as an apprentice engineer to Graptus, but now they were experienced enough to work as a team on their own, leaving Graptus and Cleon to return and put the finishing touches to the road at this end. It had branched off from the North/South route just south-west of their HQ, and run more or less easterly, following the ridges and easy ground. The sea was quite shallow just off the coast to the south-east, but there were plenty of deeper inlets and river channels that could be used to bring ships in, so they could be loaded up with the smelted iron and to offload food and supplies. Graptus had built his practice tunnel down to the nearest one of these inlets, which came to within a couple miles of their headquarters, starting from the vault. He’d added store rooms at the far end, so that supplies could off-loaded and stowed away quickly, then brought up to be used as needed. Once he knew what Graptus was up to Cleon had stopped wondering if the rain had driven his friend mad and thrown himself into the project with enthusiasm, finding the best places for ventilation shafts and plotting the course of the tunnel down to a good landing place.
Now that it was completed it seemed a shame that they would be abandoning it so soon, but there wasn’t much work left here to do, and their orders had been to return to Rome as soon as the network of roads was completed, leaving the iron workers to carry on as before. Both of them indulged themselves with imagining the riches that would be theirs if the Emperor approved of their idea and employed them to design and build his new villa. I might even be able to build myself a bigger house, Graptus thought, with a bigger rose garden. A proper bath house would be lovely too…his daydream was just getting interesting, imagining what mosaics he would commission for the main rooms of his house when he was brought back to reality by Cleon making a noise. As he looked across at his old friend it became obvious what Cleon was daydreaming about – cake. Lots and lots of cake.
Several hours later and Japp’s head was spinning from the speed at which the investigation had been taken out of his hands. There had been barely enough time to plan how they were going to discreetly keep in touch with other before the room had flooded with the specialist Major Incident Team who had been drafted in as soon as the potential bomb threat had been discovered. DI Bacon had been allocated to the team identifying and searching potential bomb targets, Sgt. Nickerson was with the door-to-door interview team, Sgt McKeown had been sent up to Yorkshire with the DI who was going to interview the retired tenant farmer, and PC Spencer had joined the team gathering CCTV evidence. Even though good operational reasons had been given for each of the decisions, Japp couldn’t help feeling like they were being treated as a gaggle of naughty school children needing to be separated in class for causing trouble. He’d worked on enough major incidents to know that they operated as a more or less self-contained team, going where they were needed and using local officers on an as needed basis, but even so it felt like the rug was being pulled from under his feet. His feelings of being unwanted were compounded by the fact that back in London he would have known dozens of the other officers on the team, and would have fitted in neatly as he had done so many times before, whereas here in Kent he was very much an outsider.
He looked over at DI Bacon who was deep in discussion with her new team already, poring over maps and lists of potential targets for terrorism. She looked like she was throwing herself into her new task with complete dedication, and Japp realised that he was in danger of reacting like a child throwing a tantrum because he’d lost his favourite toy. With a sigh he decided to get over himself and get on with the job in hand; this was not the place to be wasting time sulking or throwing a wobbly. Japp’s own role was, initially, to shadow and update the Senior Investigating Officer on what they already knew. This turned out to be not the dreaded Greene but the usual head of the Kent MIT, Detective Superintendent Jeremy Watkins. It appeared that Greene had been unsuccessful in taking charge after all. Sarah Bacon had looked surprised, but pleased, when Watkins had swept in, and after a few minutes Japp could see why. Where Greene was gruff, grumpy and determined to find fault with everything, Watkins seemed much easier to get on with.
Japp grudgingly admitted to himself that the MIT worked well and that the officers working in the unit were thorough and diligent. There was one occasion that made Japp smile to himself though, which was when Watkins insisted that CCTV footage of the forest entrances was gathered. When Spencer tried to explain the problem Watkins frowned and looked like he wasn’t prepared to accept any excuses for failure. Japp might not have been in the area for long but even he knew that there was no such thing as CCTV around the forest, except at the entrance that was accessed through Benenden Hospital overflow car park. It seemed that working in Kent didn’t necessarily mean you knew the challenges of policing rural areas any better than a London detective who had been sent down to show the locals how things were done. Deciding that it was best to get off on the right foot, Japp stepped in and suggested that the door-to-door teams could check whether any of the houses they visited had security cameras, just in case there was any usable footage covering the road. Watkins smiled, frown averted, gave him a well done for his good thinking and Japp began to feel a little better about having to make way for someone else as team leader.
Much later in the day and there was some progress. A van had been spotted driving away from the area at speed, although spotted wasn’t exactly the word that was used when the report came in. One of the farmers with land on the northern side of the forest had rung in to complain about a black Transit van driving at speed along the narrow road and not quite missing the side of his tractor as he was cutting hedges. Tom Atkinson hadn’t seen it come out of the forest, but any vehicle in the vicinity was of interest, and a van that drove recklessly and went on without stopping, even after denting the front wing and ripping the wing mirror clean off, was going to be far more interesting than most. Fortunately for them Tom had picked up the wing mirror and brought it in to the police station, and in a stroke of unbelievably brilliant luck he had footage of the van itself. He’d had a dashcam fitted on his tractor, having got fed up with inconsiderate drivers putting him and his tractor in danger while hurtling down the country lanes, and he had brought the footage in to them on a memory stick.
Watkins rubbed his hands together and declared that it looked like Christmas might well come earlier than anyone expected this year, before giving the evidence bags to Japp and asking him to take them over to Forensics. After a moment’s hesitation Japp signed for the bags and headed off. He hadn’t planned on becoming Watkins’s bag carrier for the duration of the investigation, and technically it was a role that was well beneath him, but it would give him a unique opportunity to stay at the heart of the investigation. Besides, he hadn’t visited the Forensics lab since he had gone in on Monday, only to be given a polite reminder that forensic science out in the sticks was still science and they knew what they were doing, thank you very much. He would have loved to tease them about missing the path that he had spotted in the derelict house, but it was more important that he sounded them out, to work out whether he could trust any of them with DI Bacon’s suspicions. It was of the utmost importance; if the investigation was going to be sabotaged then one of the easiest ways to do it would be to make evidence disappear, or contaminate it so that it was unusable. With that in mind, Japp headed off for the forensic labs to find out what he could.